— by Jeff Schultz
So here I am, north of the Arctic Circle in the heart of winter, at an undeservedly obscure film festival in a mid-size Norwegian city, watching a sun-drenched drama that takes place almost entirely in the area around Santa Monica and Highland. The audience: almost entirely white. The movie’s cast: black tranny hookers, drug addicts, pimps and a closeted Armenian cab driver. I sensed bafflement when the lights came up, but that was their loss: this movie is fucking awesome. Amid the noise about diversity in Hollywood, here is a magnificent curve ball with full Establishment Indie credentials: distributed by Magnolia Pictures (REDACTED, JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI), produced by the Duplass brothers (THE SKELETON TWINS, “The Mindy Project”), directed by Sean Baker (“Greg the Bunny”) — proof that talent coupled to a revolutionary idea can get the all-important green light. Going in, all I knew about this movie was that it was completely shot on an iPhone 5s. That led me to expect something raw and unpolished, even amateurish. Was I wrong! This is a fully scripted, professionally edited, great looking slice of underclass acted with such heartfelt, all-in dedication, you really do feel as though these people are playing themselves. Covering one day and night of friendship, jealousy, catfights, crack pipes, cabaret, blowjobs and betrayal, it wins you over so quickly and goes by so fast, I could easily see this spun off into a series on Netflix or Amazon. (It’s currently streaming on Netflix.) From the very beginning, transgender actors Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor are simply actors Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor. (Yes, they’re playing transgendered characters, and so themselves, but these are no trick pony performances — they’re the real thing.) Add in the dazzling James Ransone as Chester the Pimp and a solid supporting cast — plus that Southern California sunlight, which is almost a character in itself — and you have an ensemble that tackles the whip-smart dialog and constantly morphing emotions in a screenplay that could have been just a collection of freaks, but chooses instead something far more generous.